Before Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers in Hawaii and the rest of the U.S. had the power to discriminate against job applicants and employees for virtually any reason. That meant, for example, that a company could reject all job applicants who were members of a race that the hiring managers are prejudiced against, no matter how qualified the applicants were.
The Civil Rights Act changed that atmosphere of discrimination and oppression, along with employee rights laws passed by the states. Groups that have traditionally experienced employment discrimination — and often still do — now have the legal tools to fight back.
Specifically, state and federal law prohibit discrimination in hiring, firing, promotions, demotions, raises and other employment decisions based on any of the following:
- Religious beliefs
- Pregnancy status
- Parental status
- Disability status
Due to a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, “sex” refers to sexual orientation as well as gender identity.
An example of illegal discrimination
Therefore, say a company promotes a white employee over a black co-worker who had applied for the same job. The black employee has more managerial experience and a better work record than the white employee, and there is no clear work-related reason for the decision. The black employee who was passed over for promotion could have a claim for employment discrimination based on race.
Not every form of discrimination is against the law
Keep in mind that Hawaiian employers still have the power to fire most employees for almost any reason. This includes poor job performance and absenteeism as well as less job-related things like a personality conflict and the kind of clothing the employee likes to wear. Even if the reason you were denied a job or punished at work seems unfair to you, it was not necessarily illegal.
However, if you believe you were the victim of discrimination at work because you belong to one of the “protected classes” listed above, you could be entitled to substantial financial compensation. You do not have to put up with the damage to your career that illegal discrimination causes.